Reporters Without Borders welcomes yesterday’s Kuala Lumpur appeal court decision rejecting an appeal by the government and interior ministry against a court ruling in favour of allowing the Malaysiakini news website to publish a print version.
“Yesterday’s ruling is encouraging for freedom of information in Malaysia,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“The government’s behaviour is clearly indicative of a desire to control the media, while the judicial system seems opposed to this. But caution is needed. The government will probably challenge this latest decision and Malaysiakini has yet to obtain a licence to print, which only the interior ministry can issue.
“As we pointed out in an open letter to the prime minister in May 2012, real progress is still needed for freedom of information in Malaysia. We offer our full support for independent media and Malaysiakini in their efforts to resist government harassment.”
Yesterday’s decision is the latest stage in a process that began when Malaysiakini requested a publication and printing licence in August 2010 and the interior ministry refused, without offering any reason.
In May 2012, the website appealed to a high court, which issued a ruling on 1 October 2012 describing the interior ministry’s refusal as “improper and irrational” and a violation of the federal constitution.
Highlighting the government’s failure to produce arguments in support of its refusal, the high court said, “publishing a newspaper is a right, not a privilege." Yesterday’s appeal court decision constitutes an endorsement of that position.
The government has not yet said whether it will appeal against the latest decision. If it does, it will have to appeal to a federal court. Malaysiakini has said it is ready to continue the legal process, if necessary.
If the government does not appeal, Malaysiakini will have to submit a new request for a licence to publish, which the government would not legally be able to refuse. Once that was obtained, the website would still have to obtain a printing permit.
Launched 13 years ago and regarded as an opposition news outlet, Malaysiakini has managed to get round government censorship by operating as a website. It posts news and information in English, Malay and Chinese and has an average of 2.5 million readers a month.
Malaysia is ranked 145th out of 179 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.